David Collins: I wear the Galway jersey with pride in memory of my friend Niall
In his second stint as captain, David Collins has broad view of life, writes Declan Rooney
As captain of Galway it will be a massive wrench for David Collins to have to sit out today's Leinster hurling final.
Less than two weeks on from a minor hamstring tear, Croke Park against Kilkenny is hardly the place to be trying to find new limits on your way back from injury. Plus, whatever happens today, Collins and Galway will live to fight another day this summer.
This is the Liam Mellows player's second stint as captain of his county. More than eight years on from when Ger Loughnane asked him to lead the team, Collins is a very different person and hurler.
At 31, he is now the elder statesman of the Galway squad. Back then he was the fresh, young hurler of the year, but he knows the captaincy weighed on his shoulders.
"I was appointed captain by Ger Loughnane in 2006, I was 23 at the time. It's very different now, I think I took a lot of it on my own shoulders and didn't spread any of it out to the older guys on the team," he says. "Now being captain is different, I'm leading a ship of good guys who all want the same thing.
"It's no burden, it's a massive honour and pleasure. We've got to win this game, you've seen the likes of Jason Flynn and Cathal Mannion step up, you've see Joe Canning come back to his very best. We've leaders now. Like, the captain goes up and wins the toss, you hope, and that's it."
Talk of his probable absence continually swings back to the need for Galway to beat Kilkenny with or without him. This year there seems to be a real focus on the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow. There may be gloomy days on the way, but Collins has been through plenty of them already.
The eight years since Collins skippered Galway have seen him experience his fair share of anguish away from the field too. A tragic death in his family was followed by the death of former team-mate Niall Donohue in 2013.
Each time Collins wears the shirt that Niall wore, the memory of the man that filled it on the way to the All-Ireland final in 2012 always stays with him.
"God rest Niall and it was a void to fill," he says. "He was a really positive player and great craic, but now that he's not there, what do you do? Do you fill the gap with intent and seriousness, you don't know what to think. It affects all players differently.
"It's in the back of my head that the number five jersey that I often wear was Niall's jersey too. Every time I put it on, I try to wear the jersey with pride and honour and remember him.
"Niall was only a young man with his life in front of him, but he couldn't see past the pressures that were on him and were in his head . . . that's something that runs deep.
"I was just thinking of Niall when I saw that stuff on social media last week with threats to Paddy O'Rourke. The positives of social media are great, the negatives are not so good with people jumping down your throat and criticising you, that's hard when you are not a professional player."
Quite often when sports personalities lend their name for the promotion of a particular event or association it can seem hollow and opportunistic. Collins' link with youth support service, Jigsaw, is very different. It's personal. He feels if one person can benefit from his association, he's been a success.
"I had a personal loss as well through suicide in my own family and it spurred me to do something. It's open and free but I get more out of it than I put in, in terms of mental health.
"When it happened I became involved as an ambassador for Jigsaw in Galway to try and give something back. So it helped me positively, but other lads don't talk about it much, you'd be afraid of what they're thinking.
"I was at the walk-in centre one day and there was a lad there: coming in, walking out, coming in, walking out again. I knew he had to make the decision himself that he needs help.
"I'm thinking the only decision I have to make is on a pitch is 'do I shoot or pass the ball left or right?'. I mean that's a lot bigger decision for him.
"I might make a mistake, I might miss a ball but there's more to life than that, you can move on from that. I couldn't be happier to do a bit for anyone with a need to be heard."
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